Have you struggled with dieting for years and feel ready to try a new approach to eating?
Have you heard about Intuitive Eating but aren’t really sure what it’s all about or why you should try it?
I get it. It can be scary to try something new after years of frustration with dieting and weight regain.
In this article, you’ll learn what Intuitive Eating is and how practicing Intuitive Eating can improve your physical and mental health. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of each of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.
Within a few minutes, you’ll become familiar with the framework to start your Intuitive Eating journey. Read on to begin the path towards a healthier relationship with food and body!
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating (IE) is a compassionate approach to self-care, eating, nutrition, and movement that promotes physical and mental health. It helps you find pleasure in food and the joy of moving your body.
Through the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating, you can learn to connect and respond to your body’s natural, biological signals, including hunger, fullness, satisfaction or emotional need.
I describe each principle in detail below. Together they create a framework to tune in to your body and what it really needs. Intuitive Eating is a practice, and it will take time to master. But it’s worth it.
Being able to respond to what we REALLY need allows us to reap the health and wellness benefits that intuitive eaters enjoy, like better self-esteem and less emotional eating.
What Are The Benefits Of Intuitive Eating?
The benefits of Intuitive Eating include improvements to physical and mental health, various improved eating behaviors, and boosts to self esteem and body image. More specifically, the benefits of Intuitive Eating are:
- Lower Triglycerides
- Higher HDL (good cholesterol)
- Lower blood pressure
- Less loss-of-control eating
- Less disordered eating
- Less emotional eating
- Less binge eating
- Higher variety of foods eaten
- Increased pleasure from eating
- Higher interoceptive awareness
- Improved self-esteem
- Less body dissatisfaction
- Improved body acceptance
- Higher body appreciation
- Improved proactive coping
- Higher psychological hardiness
- Higher satisfaction with life
- Unconditional self-regard
- Less suppressing one’s own needs, thoughts and feelings
Is Intuitive Eating Evidence Based?
Yes. In fact, as of 2020 when the most recent edition of Intuitive Eating was published, over 125 studies had been conducted showing the numerous benefits of Intuitive Eating. There is a growing body of evidence (scientific proof) supporting Intuitive Eating as an effective approach to improving physical health and mental well-being.
Is Intuitive Eating For Weight Loss?
Intuitive Eating is not a diet or a weight loss program. In fact, Intuitive Eating should not be used as a weight loss or weight maintenance method.
Why? Because at the core of Intuitive Eating is the recognition that dieting is harmful. Thus, seeing IE as a tool to shrink your body is antithetical to the entire approach. There are no meal plans or exercise prescriptions, no calorie counting, food logging or tracking apps in IE. It is a framework that shifts us away from the diet mentality altogether.
The ten principles of Intuitive Eating are not a checklist, but instead, they serve to help undo the harm that years of dieting and the diet mentality have done to our mental health.
Intuitive Eating is also not a “hunger and fullness” diet. It is emphatically anti-diet, in fact. Yes, honoring hunger and feeling fullness are part of the framework, but they are only two of the ten principles. There is so much more to Intuitive Eating than eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re comfortably full.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
The diet and weight loss industry make billions (yes, that’s a ‘b’) each year from convincing you that your body will be healthier, more attractive, more worthy of love and a whole line of other BS by buying their products.
Perpetuating these lies keeps the dollars rolling in and keeps you believing that you have failed when the diet stops working or when you gain weight back. You keep hoping the next diet/plan/cleanse/reset/powder/pill/surgery will be the one that works for good. Then it doesn’t, leaving you searching for the next plan.
STOP THIS MADNESS!
Rejecting the diet mentality is what will give you true food and body freedom.
Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
Eat adequately throughout the day. Ignoring hunger cues because it’s not “time” to eat or we “shouldn’t” be hungry can lead us to feeling ravenous. Making nutrition decisions in a “hangry” state leaves us open to making less desirable choices and episodes of overeating. Giving yourself adequate energy, carbs, proteins, and other nutrients when hunger signals begin helps you rebuild trust in your body’s inherent wisdom about what and how much to eat.
Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
Remove the rules about which foods are forbidden or allowed. When we tell ourselves a food is off limits, it becomes increasingly appealing, like the bad boy parents tell their teen not to date. We crave the forbidden food more, and when we have it, look out! We can’t get enough. We may feel out of control around that food or binge it, leaving us feeling shame and guilt. When we give up the food rules and call a truce, the forbidden foods have no power over us.
Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
That feeling of satisfaction when you’ve eaten “right” and shame when you haven’t – that’s the Food Police blowing their proverbial whistles. These judgemental thoughts are not helping you respond to your body’s needs or eat with intuition. Questioning diet culture’s arbitrary rules is what principle 4 is all about, so that you can tune in to what really helps you feel your best.
Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Food that satisfies us sends off pleasure signals in our brains – an evolutionary adaptation that helps us seek out food to keep us alive. When we deny ourselves the foods that truly satisfy us because of diet culture messaging, we miss out on one of life’s most basic pleasures. Intuitive eating can help bring the joy and satisfaction back into eating.
Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness
Dieting and restrictive eating practices disrupt the body’s natural signals for hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating helps you reestablish trust in your body’s ability to tell you when it has had enough. You can re-learn how to respond to fullness in a mindful way, so that eating until comfortably full becomes the norm.
Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Building skills for coping with difficult emotions, boredom, stress, or loneliness is part of pursuing a balanced life. If you have relied on food to soothe yourself when mad or anxious, you are not alone. Food can provide temporary relief or distraction, but often is not the long-term solution to the problem at hand. Becoming more attuned with your emotions and needs can be helpful to shift away from eating as a coping tool.
Principle 8: Respect Your Body
Recognize that your body is your “forever home” – it’s the only one you’ll ever have. Nourish it. Treat it with respect and kindness. Accept that your body’s size, like your height or shoe size, is determined largely by your genetics. Work towards a place of body acceptance so that you can reject the need to diet to change your body and truly feel better about who you are.
Principle 9: Movement—Feel the Difference
Finding movement that feels positive not punishing can make all the difference in keeping your motivation to move high. Redefine what physical activity means to you and engage in movement that makes you feel fantastic.
Principle 10: Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
Find a balance between the foods that support your health and those that give you great pleasure and satisfaction – some will do both! All foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern, so focus on the big picture. Your eating habits over the long haul are what really matter, not your choices in just one meal or snack.
What Is The Best Way To Start Intuitive Eating?
First, I would highly recommend reading the most recent edition of the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This will help you become more familiar with the 10 principles of intuitive eating, the research showing their effectiveness, and why IE has helped so many improve their health.
Once familiar with the 10 principles, choose one to begin with. I often begin clients with Discover the Satisfaction Factor (Principle 5) because beginning to explore the foods you enjoy can be easier than changing your mindset (Principle 1) or learning new coping skills (Principle 7). When you find success with one principle, give another a try.
If doing this on your own seems daunting, I recommend seeking out help. If you have been dieting for years, the idea of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat can feel uneasy or scary. Some folks fear what will happen without rules around food. The idea of trusting your body to determine when and how much to eat can often feel foreign to long-term dieters.
If this sounds like you, you may want the help of a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and registered dietitian (like me!) familiar with Intuitive Eating as your guide as you begin.
Other Intuitive Eating Tools
There are also additional tools you can use on your own or in tandem with working with your intuitive eating dietitian. I wholeheartedly recommend and love The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s full of exercises to help you dive deeper into each principle and reflect on your experiences practicing them.
Another book, Intuitive Eating for Every Day by Evelyn Tribole, is also a super resource. It is organized into single page tips, designed for daily inspiration. The prompts are excellent and are perfect for you if you like journaling or simply breaking things down into easily digestible bits.
Pursuing Intuitive Eating has been nothing short of life-changing for me, and as a non-diet dietitian, I thoroughly endorse this approach. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes sustained effort. It goes against what we’ve been taught by diet culture. It also makes complete sense once the 10 principles of intuitive eating come together and click in your mind.
If you’re looking for support, you’ve come to the right place! I have special training in IE (and lived experience) and in treating clients with chronic dieting or disordered eating as a part of their history. I have helped many clients navigate the stages of Intuitive Eating and I can help you apply the principles to your life in a way that is not overwhelming.
If you want support getting started with a Certified Intuitive Eating dietitian, let’s set up a free 10 minute inquiry call.
The links for purchasing the books embedded in the article support my local Montpelier, Vermont bookstore, Bear Pond Books. I do not receive compensation for your purchase. I just LOVE my local book shop and hope you will support small retailers if you decide to purchase the suggested titles.
Hello there! I’m Britt, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. I can help you find freedom from life-long dieting, disordered eating and eating disorders. When I’m not writing about ditching diet culture, joyful movement or improving body image, you can find me hiking in Vermont’s Green Mountains, eating pizza, making modern quilts or sipping a hot cup of tea. Let’s connect!